Encyclopedia of Appalachia
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Biltmore Estate

In the 1890s, George W. Vanderbilt constructed the estate of his dreams, a luxuriously appointed and furnished 250- room French chateau designed by leading American architect Richard Morris Hunt. Nestled in the North Carolina mountains, Biltmore House was surrounded by gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted that rivaled those of European castles and featured an exceptional array of indigenous and imported plants. By the time Vanderbilt invited the first guests to his mountain estate in December 1895, it already had become something of a regional tourist attraction.

Vanderbilt came to Asheville during a formative period in the city's history. Following the Civil War and the subsequent arrival of the railroad in 1880, Asheville became an important tourist destination. The mountain scenery and mild climate attracted health and pleasure seekers from across the nation. The estate was an important component of the evolving cosmopolitan image of Asheville. Though no tours were allowed, even the construction of this landmark house drew locals, tourists, and travel writers from across the nation, all of whom marveled at the structure and hoped for a glimpse of the famous family and their visitors. In 1914 Vanderbilt died, leaving Biltmore to his wife, Edith. Shortly after she deeded a vast tract of land to the U.S. Forest Service, Edith married Rhode Island Senator Peter G. Gerry and moved out of the house. The estate passed to the couple's only daughter, Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil. In an effort to rebuild the city's economy following the stock market crash of 1929 and failure of the Central Bank, Asheville leaders approached Cecil about opening the estate to visitors. She agreed, and in 1930 Biltmore hosted its first tourists. Almost immediately, the estate drew thousands of visitors, boosting the region's resort reputation and creating a nationally recognized attraction.

Estate managers tried to preserve the Victorian elegance and ambiance enjoyed by George Vanderbilt and his guests, which was an expensive undertaking. Beginning in 1960, Cornelia Cecil's son, William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, oversaw the much needed historic preservation and undertook restoration projects that opened more of Biltmore House to tours. In the 1990s, William Cecil Jr. attempted to draw more visitors by offering seasonal attractions such as dazzling Christmas decorations and a spring Festival of Flowers, adding restaurants, and developing a winery. In 2001 a luxury hotel, Inn on Biltmore Estate, was completed, turning the estate into a multi-day destination. Other proposed revenue-generating enterprises include the sale of azalea nursery stock to complement sales of wine. In recent decades, Biltmore Estate has taken advantage of the popularity of heritage tourism and its proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway to remain western North Carolina's single most important tourist destination. In 1999 Biltmore Estate attracted nine hundred thousand visitors, even with a thirty-dollar ticket price. See also: ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA; BILTMORE ESTATE COMPLEX (ARCHITECTURE); CULTURAL HERITAGE TOURISM. —Richard D. Starnes, Western Carolina University


Southern Railway System Until the mergers of the 1970s and 1980s, the Southern Railway System was one of the two major railway systems of southern Appalachia. Extending fromWashington, D.C., to Atlanta and New Orleans and from Cincinnati through Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee, to New Orleans, the Southern served many of the cities, towns, and rural areas of the region. The trains of the Southern Railway carried people out of Appalachia to school, to war, to vacation spots, and to jobs when none were available in Appalachia. Its trains also carried cotton, coal, timber, and tobacco from Appalachia to markets all over the nation. It transported men back from war (sometimes in coffins), brought students home from school, returned former residents, introduced salesmen to the area, and delivered manufactured goods to Appalachia.

In the years after the CivilWar, several financial groups attempted to merge various small southern railroads into a larger, more efficient system using the Richmond and Danville Railroad as the base. Initially, Thomas A. Scott, vicepresident for many years and president of the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1874 to 1880, and Pennsylvania Railroad interests attempted to construct such a system. The Panic of 1873 derailed these efforts, however, and the Pennsylvania interests sold most of their holdings. In the 1880s, steamship magnate William P. Clyde led northern and southern capitalists in creating the Richmond and West Point Terminal Railway and Warehouse Company to build a large system of southern railroads. While the system eventually included more than eight thousand miles of track, it, too, encountered financial difficulties and was placed in receivership in 1892. In February 1893, Drexel, Morgan and Company agreed to take over the Clyde properties and attempt to revitalize them. Reorganization was complete in 1894, and on July 1 the Southern Railway System began operations. The reorganization of the Richmond Terminal was probably one of the most important economic and financial events of the post–Civil War railroad business in the South. The major railroads in the 1894 merger creating Southern Railway System were the Richmond and Danville; the Atlanta and Charlotte Air Line; the Virginia Midland; the Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky; and the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia. In the early twentieth century, the Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Texas Pacific (Queen and Crescent route) Railroad and the Virginia and Southwestern were added to the system. In 1963 the Central of Georgia was merged into the system. Samuel Spencer was named president of the new system in 1894 and remained in this post until 1906, when he was killed in a train wreck south of Lynchburg, Virginia. During his presidency, the Southern System's mileage, net income, and quality of its rolling stock and physical plant increased tremendously, although dividends were paid infrequently to stockholders. Spencer was a strong proponent of using the railroad to improve the economic status of the area through which it passed. The company encouraged agricultural interests in the South to diversify rather than to rely on tobacco and cotton and took an active role in educating farmers on improved farming techniques, erosion control, and irrigation methods.

Development of the Southern System was slowed by United States Railroad Administration control duringWorld War I, but in the 1920s a number of additional improvements— line relocations, the purchase of new steam locomotives, improved line signaling, and expanded passenger service—allowed the Southern to claim that it was one of the most forward-looking railroads in the nation. During this decade, the Southern Railway developed an attractive applegreen and gold color scheme to distinguish its passenger locomotives and cars. Powered by the famous Ps-4 Pacifictype locomotives, one of which is preserved at the Smithsonian Institution, Southern Railway passenger trains were among the best in the nation in terms of on-time performance and excellence of onboard service.

Few railroads were as hard hit by the Great Depression as the Southern, and many of the advances made during the 1920s were nullified by the loss of traffic and the financial difficulties of the 1930s. Much of the traffic on the Southern was agricultural in nature, including timber, and these commodities suffered significant declines in traffic during the depression. While the Southern did haul some coal, it was a relatively small part of the overall traffic mix. Only loans from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation allowed the company to avert bankruptcy.

World War II brought a resurgence of business traffic and allowed the railroad to enjoy a third stage of growth. Diesel locomotives replaced the obsolete steam fleet, new yard facilities improved freight handling, centralized traffic control speeded train movements, streamlined passenger trains on faster schedules pleased customers, and innovative marketing initiatives brought more business. Many advances in the reduction of the labor costs were pioneered by the Southern, including "helper" locomotives operated by radio control. By the late 1960s, the Southern was known widely as one of the best-managed and safest U.S. railroads. But the creation of the Family Lines (a merger of the Seaboard Air Line, the Atlantic Coast Line, and the Louisville and Nashville) forced the Southern to look for a partner. In 1980 it began negotiations with the Norfolk and Western Railway, another well-managed railroad with extensive coal traffic, and two years later they merged into the Norfolk Southern. Efforts in 1986 to purchase Conrail failed, but in 1999 Norfolk Southern and CSX divided Conrail between themselves. The Norfolk Southern Corporation continues to be a major railroad in southern and central Appalachia. With the addition of Conrail lines, the railroad now spreads throughout northern Appalachia as well. See also: NORFOLK SOUTHERN CORPORATION; RAILROADS.

—Robert L. Frey, University of Charleston (West Virginia) Burke Davis, The Southern Railway: Road of the Innovators (1985).

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